“Don’t Fight It,” by Wilson Pickett
“There you sit all by yourself/Everybody’s dancing, they cannot help themselves/The groove is much too strong/You cannot hold out long/So get up, don’t fight it/You got to feel it.” It’s fitting to kick off the Hard Revolution soundtrack with “Don’t Fight It,” one of Wilson Pickett’s wildly energetic, early singles on Atlantic, in which he challenges the listener to not only get up and dance, but get involved. Pickett is in fine, frenzied form here, growling, grunting, his voice cracking in the upper registers, delivering a righteously raw performance. I can think of no better example of the Stax/Volt sound than this, and no better messenger than Wicked Wilson. With Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, Joe Hall on piano, Floyd Newman on baritone sax, Wayne Jackson on trumpet, and Andrew Love and Packy Axton on tenor saxophones. Cut on May 12, 1965, the same day as “In the Midnight Hour,” in Memphis, Tennessee. What a session, and what a song.
“Tonight’s the Night,” by Solomon Burke
This is the one where King Solomon tells his lady friend that, “If someone should call, don’t answer the phone/ somebody knocks on the door, tell ’em we’re not home,” and, “I don’t want no friends around,” because this is the night that “you belong to me.” The horn bursts are glorious, the guitar is raucous, and the background singers truly sound as if their elevators are about to reach the top floor. The liner notes on the Rhino best-of claims that a racist hotel manager was the inspiration of this song, co-written by Burke and Don Covay. All I hear is the aural equivalent of foreplay. One of the most sexually charged soul singles of all time.”
“Born Under a Bad Sign,” by Albert King
“You know wine and women is all I crave/a big-legged woman is gonna carry me to my grave.” Albert King, from Indianola, Mississippi, was best known as a blues guitarist, but his prime cuts, most on the Stax label, had an R&B feel to them, particularly on those where King was backed by the Stax/Volt band. This one was played on WOOK and WOL, D.C.’s premier soul stations, when I was a kid. “Born Under a Bad Sign” peaked at number 49 on the soul charts and was later brought to the masses by Clapton and Cream. Check out the original. King, along with a swinging rhythm and horn section, plays it right.
“Fool for You,” by The Impressions
Of all the soul artists of the 60s, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions were arguably the bravest, singing about positive change, the need for equality, motivation and uplift, and progress through a combination of protest and spirituality, at a time when many felt that such topics would be better left off the airwaves. Songs like “Keep on Pushing,” “We’re a Winner,” “This Is My Country,” “Choice of Colors,” and, most dramatically, “People Get Ready,” have now become a part of our social history. “Fool for You,” the first single released on Mayfield’s Curtom label, is a driving, dramatic love song, distinguished by Mayfield’s singular voice and wall-of-sound production. Rest in peace, Curtis Mayfield.
“It Tears Me Up,” by Percy Sledge
If you only know Percy Sledge by his big one, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” you are getting an incomplete picture of one of the most underrated soul singers of his generation. “It Tears Me Up” is full-effect Percy, the message going directly from the singer to the listener like a punch in the heart. Imagine this coming through a car radio, hearing his voice, wrecked with emotion, describing the pain of seeing the girl he loves with another guy. Percy made it real.
“You Don’t Miss Your Water,” by William Bell
Bell was overshadowed by some of his more showy contemporaries on Stax, but in his quiet, relaxed way, he is no less important. This is the song, from Soul of a Bell, which will stand the test of time. On “Water,” Bell mixes country, gospel, and R&B to masterful effect. That’s Booker T on the signature piano. Later covered by The Byrds and Otis Redding, among others. A great one.
“I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down,” by Sam and Dave
“I’m the living result of a man who that’s been hurt a little too much/Now I’ve tasted the bitterness of my own tears/Sadness is all my lonely heart can feel.” Today, Sam Moore and Dave Prater are unfairly remembered for only their biggest hits, “Hold on! I’m a Comin'” and especially “Soul Man.” But Sam and Dave were more than faceless hit-makers in black tuxedos. On this ballad, released as a B-side, they truly tear it up, pushing each other and the Stax band to career-best heights. Sam and Dave were not close in their everyday lives, but on record they were completely in sync. Here’s the proof. “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” was covered by Elvis Costello, magnificently, on his landmark record, Get Happy.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” by Otis Redding
From the essential long player Otis Blue, one of the greatest soul performances ever recorded, from the greatest soul singer of all time, backed by the Stax/Volt band. Enjoy.